What does it take to survive and thrive in the real estate business for decades? That’s not a theoretical question for Claudio Cerrito. At 53, the Toronto Re/Max Hallmark Realty sales rep just marked his 35th year as a Realtor (if you just did the math, yes, he became an agent at age 18). And he says he’s never really stopped asking himself that type of question: “How do I reinvent myself and stay relevant with everybody else, so that people will continue to want to work with me, and also so I will enjoy it?”
Looking at his numbers, it seems Cerrito has been asking the right questions. In 2019, he was ranked No. 1 out of 1,200 agents at Re/Max Hallmark Realty in Toronto. He’s a Lifetime Achievement Award winner and regularly ranks among Re/Max’s top 100 agents in Canada. In a competitive industry, Cerrito admits it’s “pretty freaking awesome” to contemplate such markers. Yet he’s also at the stage where he’s reflective, inclined to share and realizing his insights could help others. “I think I have an inspiring story.”
In talking to Cerrito about his career path, his challenges and what advice he has for agents today, you’ll find him enthusiastic and generous – but he doesn’t gloss over the challenges his kind of success entails either.
For Cerrito, a decades-long career actually started on a whim. Looking for a summer job at 14, a posting caught his eye. “A very high-profile Realtor was looking for someone to do telephone canvassing, which was quite big back then.”
Young yes, but also poised, Cerrito landed the job. “That summer I was working four hours a day from home and my role was to tele-canvass.” He produced so many leads, when the summer ended the Realtor offered him an after-school job. Cerrito learned the ropes from her for three years.
At 17, not happy at high school, Cerrito convinced his parents to let him quit and explore his burgeoning curiosity about real estate. They agreed. He studied for his licence. “Some negative people in my class were like, ‘This isn’t for you, you’re a kid. Who’s going to buy a house from you?’” But at 18, “looking like 14,” he became an agent.
Awkward door knocking ensued. Cerrito says, “I had worked for somebody for three years, so when I had the opportunity to tell my story, people embraced that and were actually very supportive. But, I’m not going to deny, I had moments when I went to people’s houses and some said to me, ‘I’m sorry you’re just too young.’ But I just kept going.”
That tenacity and authentic passion has been key for Cerrito. “People know when somebody isn’t sincere.” Professionalism, focus and a love of his industry have always propelled him.
“I try to be as good as I can be in whatever I am doing. And as busy as I am, I feel I’m so fortunate to do what I do. I get to meet so many incredible people and it’s also very social, our industry.”
Amidst this compelling, enjoyable work though, Cerrito says a tricky and constant challenge over the years has been change – a lurching rollercoaster ride of change in fact. Confronted by disruption, he’s seen plenty of agents walk away. “I talk to a lot of colleagues who started when I started…who are no longer in the business because they could not adapt to all the changes. They said, ‘I don’t like what it’s become, I don’t want to be a stager. I don’t want to be a designer. I don’t want to do everything we have to do because we now have to wear so many different hats.’ ”
Cerrito’s choice has been to track trends, embrace, adapt. Asked about specific shifts he’s seen over the years, he cites staging first. “That’s definitely something that has just exploded in our industry,” he says, adding he’s accumulated a staging business and a warehouse. He set a goal to go the extra mile creatively with that aspect of the business.
Cerrito has witnessed many phases of digital revolution too. “Social media, using that platform for me personally has been huge,” he says. “Our industry continues to evolve. And if you’re not part of that, you’re sort of left behind.”
Maybe less dramatically, but also key has been Cerrito’s gradual evolution towards “farming” one area – 14,000 homes weekly in Toronto’s east-end Riverdale and Leslieville neighbourhoods. “More started to happen there and I became really involved with the community.” Today Cerrito supports nine local schools, sponsoring and serving free treats at fun fair-type fundraisers. “When kids see me in the neighbourhood sometimes they’ll yell out, ‘There’s the ice cream guy!’ It’s quite funny.”
Cerrito also supports local businesses and events. He enjoys being a “community connector” and says it’s been a solid career decision. “I think as Realtors we’re selling a lifestyle to people, and in my experience, when I’m selling homes to clients in any given neighborhood, it’s important to them to know, ‘What’s the demographic in that neighborhood? What is that neighborhood about?’”
At the same time, given his commitments and personality, Cerrito is the first to admit finding balance is a struggle. “I love what I do and that can sometimes be a detriment, because when you love it as much as I love it, it never feels like work to me – so I’m always working and not realizing that I’m always working.”
To achieve some balance, he exercises every day, is learning how to detach and takes time off in August and December to travel with his partner. “But it’s a struggle because I’m so busy and I’m always looking to be busier and be better, and my mind is racing all the time with ideas.”
If there’s a final takeaway from Cerrito, it’s about connection and industry optimism. While the sweeping changes with digital can feel threatening, he says among his clients he sees some shifting away from messaging and back towards human interaction – and an appreciation for his expertise.
“The Realtor is going to be as important as ever,” says Cerrito. “The people that I’m selling to…even in the younger demographic, people are still very much wanting that connection to an agent that has expertise and experience. That still speaks volumes to people when they’re about to make the biggest purchase of their life.”